Righting Wrongs (1986)

Directed by: Corey Yuen
Written by: Barry Wong & Szeto Cheuk-Hon
Corey Yuen & Yuen Biao
Starring: Yuen Biao, Cynthia Rothrock, Melvin Wong, Corey Yuen, Fan Siu Wong & Wu Ma

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1987:
Best Supporting Actor (Wu Ma)
Best Action Choreography (Corey Yuen, Yuen Biao, Mang Hoi & Hsu Hsia)

Righting Wrongs is, to many, a classic 80s Hong Kong action movie and it sure contains the ingredients to earn that prestigious title. To me there was still some things lacking in the execution of this often brutal, dark but highly recommended 80s actioner.

Yuen Biao plays Hsia Ling-Cheng, a newly examined prosecutor whose mentor, an outspoken judge, is brutally murdered in front of him. This triggers a series of events where all Hsia Ling-Cheng's key witnesses in a drug case are killed off and with no faith in the law anymore, he decides to take care of the bad guys himself. Hot on his tail is the female cop Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock from Yes, Madam) but she doesn't care whether the truly bad ones are solely arrested. For her a killer is a killer and therefore she is only out to catch Hsia Ling-Cheng. Through different turn of events it is discovered that the head of the criminal organization is a well respected police man (Melvin Wong from Eastern Condors) and now Hsia Ling-Cheng and Cindy have to join together to bring him to justice...

Corey Yuen has on several occasions worked as an action choreographer in films such as Jet Li's Hollywood efforts and you're pretty much guaranteed a good execution in that department when his name pops up on the screen. In Righting Wrongs, he has together with his team of choreographers, which include Yuen Biao himself, come up with some truly excellent fight- and action scenes. He never fails to show off Yuen Biao's amazing acrobatic- and martial arts skills but the feeling of these scenes is more towards brutality and grittiness. Something which suits the movie very much in tone. Among the highlights in the choreography is the garage scene where Biao is fighting both cars and humans plus the almost shocking climax of the movie with Yuen Biao, Cynthia Rothrock and Melvin Wong. There are only a few select times where the editing of the action is a bit hard to follow but this is just a minor point. The action generates wonderful entertainment despite the movies dark undertones.

Righting Wrongs is a pretty straightforward and simple story that one would argue shouldn't be analyzed to the extreme but I feel there were still flaws that needed to be addressed. It's mainly Corey's work as a director of actors and the way he shoots those scenes, that is really average. Most of the dialogue scenes are ok on a directorial level but they still feel somewhat flat and lifeless. All in all they work for this kind of movie and they're just really interludes in between the action.

The movie has a furious pace in the beginning parts but after that it sort of drags a bit while we get to see the little but serviceable plot develop. Yuen Biao's character actually goes missing for a fair amount of time here while we follow Cynthia Rothrock and Corey Yuen's (yes, that's the director in a fairly significant role) investigation of the trails left behind by Hsia Ling-Cheng. Despite a less than complicated plot, characters enter the movie very quickly and we have to ponder a bit as to how they fit into the picture. You eventually have everyone and everything laid out clear and can enjoy the next hard hitting action scene. When Yuen Biao eventually goes into action again the remainder of the running time goes by at a smooth pace.

I do think that Righting Wrongs could've gained more power if it had been been played serious all the way through the end. Here and there, mainly in the first half, there are a few of your usual Hong Kong slapstick scenes thrown in. This is nothing new in Hong Kong filmmaking but it still doesn't really fit when we're soon after get to see a serious scene or a brutal one. It's not as extreme as the juxtaposition between the nasty stuff and the humour in Dr. Lamb though.

The theme of taking the law into your own hands is one we've seen before and the motivation of Yuen Biao's character is passable considering the genre of movie it is. The character of Hsia Ling-Cheng quickly loses confidence in the law and when he's asked which ones he thinks the law protects, he sorrowfully says: the bad guys. So almost from the beginning the character has hit the point of no return and from this the movie carries with it a very dark and pessimistic tone about a world with no real justice. I personally think that films need to put that message up on the big screen at times. We don't live in a perfect world and sometimes it's easy to forget that fact. Another movie that I think dealt with this subject is Alfred Cheung's On The Run.

In the above mentioned On The Run Yuen Biao showed me the definite sign that he has what it takes to to be a dramatic actor. In that film he threw one kick and the rest was him showing a dramatic and gritty side to his acting, something which made the character more human. In Righting Wrongs he does well in the balance act between playing the lost character of Hsia Ling-Cheng and the performance in the action scenes. It must be said though that the script isn't that well written even though Biao's character is the most fleshed out one. His acting doesn't quite reach the height that the movie aims for but Biao's central performance is still quite good despite those flaws.

I must admit that I hadn't seen any movie with Cynthia Rothrock prior to this one and I didn't expect a whole lot from this fast kicking American female. Her cop role isn't exactly multi layered and original but, despite the often horrible Cantonese dubbing of her, she handles herself in a perfectly acceptable way. She adds strength to the movie through her skills as an action actress and by the looks of it performs a good slew of the stunts herself. There were some very obvious doubling of her and you'll especially laugh at that during her introductory scene. While Biao beats her in the acting department, she is a good match and counterpart to him when it comes to the martial arts itself.

As the film's bad guy we see Melvin Wong and, once again, his character arc is nothing new to Hong Kong movies but I thought Melvin put in a good performance. He managed to show the almost cold blooded nature of his character who will stop at nothing when it comes to silencing people. There are some fairly gruesome scenes involving him and this is a movie bad guy that I will remember for a little while. Other actors could act out this role way over the top and almost make it comedic but Melvin stays well within those borders and is actually at times quite scary.

One supporting player worth mentioning is veteran actor and director Wu Ma who plays the father of Corey Yuen's character. Their scenes are the so called funny ones in the movie and while they were not entirely non-humerous, I could've done without them. Wu Ma does have a memorable dramatic scene later in the film that involves the death of one of the police men and his understated reaction in that scene is probably what earned him the supporting actor nomination that year.

When we start to approach the final 15 minutes of the film, the expectations are high for a killer climax and the choreographers certainly was at the top of their game when it came to the end. If the fight between Yuen Biao and Melvin Wong had been the final scene of the movie, I would've been very satisfied but there's more! Melvin's character takes off in a small air plane with Yuen Biao's character pursuing on foot! Here Yuen shows his most crazy side and the stunt work on display here is absolutely amazing. It doesn't even look like they took any security measures at all, they just did it apparently. Whether Yuen himself performed all the aerial stunts is unknown to me but regardless it's still a highly impressive climax to this movie. Just like the final reel of On The Run there's some sometimes shocking and brutal violence being shown but I think it's all very reasonable to present it that way since that tone has been set early on.

Righting Wrongs is a movie I will be revisiting many times but I think that it would've been even better if the filmmakers had chosen to leave out the humour and gone with the serious tone all throughout the movie. Don't let these negative remarks stop you from adding this movie to your collection though. It's a very good piece of Hong Kong cinema but if you want to see Yuen Biao showing his acting skills, I recommend watching On The Run before this. It will make a great double bill!

The DVD:

First of all I have to applaud to Universe for including TWO versions of the film. One side presents the Cantonese 92 minute version, while the other has the Mandarin language version, clocking in at 94 minutes.

The Mandarin edit first and foremost contains a different chain of events in the hangar end fight as well as an alternative ending to the film. There are also a few extended and deleted scenes throughout the movie. For example there is more dialogue with the family of Yuen Biao's main witness and a scene showing the relationship between Fan Siu Wong's character and his grandfather. None of these scenes are really integral to the plot but they make for worthwhile viewing. I noticed that some of the more violent scenes had been shortened also. Parts of the extended scenes and choices during the ending are preferable but most likely you'll choose the Cantonese version and screen the extended bits on the flip side from time to time. Stills from these scenes and others are available in the Righting Wrongs Deleted & Extended Scenes Gallery.

The movie is presented in an aspect ratio which looks more closer to 1.90:1 but if it was over matted from 1.85:1, I sure didn't notice any signs of it. The print itself looks and feels like a Hong Kong movie from 1986 which is a good thing. There is a slight softness to it but somehow I feel it should look that way. Colours are good and the best thing is that the print is very clean. Specks are only in and out for a few scenes and the dreaded line through the print reared its ugly head once. The Mandarin edit has a very similar picture but is slightly darker in places.

There's only one sound option for the Cantonese version and that is a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix in Cantonese. Most of the times it's a restrained remix that is centered but there are some few instances of some really bad inserted foley effects. This is very noticeable in the car chase at the beginning and very distracting when they do occur. The Mandarin version has some very uneven mixing between dialogue and effects but other than that and the Mandarin dubbing, they sound the same.

The English subtitles are very good on both versions with only a select few grammar and spelling errors. However they're unfortunately placed partly on the picture and the black border. Hong Kong companies should learn that that is a big no-no for us widescreen owners. Other subtitles for the Cantonese version are Traditional and simplified Chinese. For the Mandarin version you get Japanese, Thai, Bahasa Malysian, Bahasa Indonesian, Korean and Vietnamese subtitles.

Both sides contain the same supplements which are basic Star's Files for Corey Yuen and Yuen Biao in both Chinese and English and trailers for Righting Wrongs, The Heroic Trio, Executioners & The Young Master.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson